June 28, 2018 11:02 PM NPT
England and Belgium have already qualified
They will be competing for top spot in Group G
The group stage draws to a close on Thursday with one of its most eagerly anticipated games, the calendar serving up a delicious showdown between England and Belgium. Both will be vying for top spot in Group G as they lock horns in Kaliningrad.
Expect drama and entertainment aplenty after impressive displays from both teams so far. In fact, they head into the match with the exact same record, posting eight goals apiece – a figure equalled by Russia alone – and conceding twice. In the event of a draw, the two sides' fair-play record could decide who finishes top, with England boasting the advantage ahead of kick-off.
The two previous FIFA World Cup meetings between these nations also suggest that sparks will fly. They first crossed paths during the group stage in 1954, sharing eight goals in a remarkable 4-4 draw, and there was more excitement to come when they were reunited in 1990. With a penalty shootout seemingly inevitable, David Platt secured a 1-0 win for the Three Lions in the dying moments of extra-time, leaving neutrals hoping for another thrilling contest.
Team Reporter Analysis
Belgium will present England's biggest test yet at Russia 2018. With qualification for the Round of 16 secure after the first back-to-back opening World Cup victories since 2006, it is not a must-win game, yet Gareth Southgate is a believer in competitive spirit and momentum, meaning that they will be out for victory. We expect several changes to personnel, given the strength and depth in the England squad, and Southgate's desire to ensure that those he may need to call on in the knockout phase have had match minutes. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kyle Walker both on yellow cards, he could bring in Danny Rose, while there is also speculation that Harry Kane could be benched to give Jamie Vardy a World Cup start, yet Southgate told FIFA TV he would not disrupt the three-man rearguard. - Laure James, England
Roberto Martinez has already indicated that he will ring the changes against England. The Belgium coach is taking this game very seriously, but he intends to make the most of his team's early qualification by giving a few starters a breather and allowing his fringe players more time on the pitch. Martinez will doubtless keep faith with his beloved 3-4-2-1 formation as he introduces at least six new faces, with Thomas Vermaelen expected to return and Michy Batshuayi taking over from Romelu Lukaku up front. - Simon Massart, Belgium
Did you know?
England's Harry Kane and Belgium's Romelu Lukaku pulled off a rare World Cup feat by scoring at least two goals apiece in both their opening games. Only two players had ever done likewise in the history of the competition: Sandor Kocsis for Hungary at Switzerland 1954 and Guillermo Stabile for Argentina at Uruguay 1930. Both their teams went on to reach the Final.
Possible Line-ups England: Jordan Pickford; Phil Jones, John Stones, Gary Cahill; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Eric Dier, Jesse Lingard, Danny Rose; Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane